Investigative Question

What is our community like?

Students' growing sense of place and spatial relationships makes possible important new geographic learning in grade one. To develop geographic literacy, teachers can build on students' sense of their neighborhood and the places where students regularly go in order to shop, play, and visit. In response to the question What is our community like? , students demonstrate their emerging spatial concepts and skills by making a map of their neighborhood, town, and county and then labeling a map with California, the United States, the continents, and oceans. Books such as Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney and Maps and Globes by Jack Knowlton may be used to teach students about cartography as well as build conceptual knowledge of community, city, state, country, continent, and world. Students may construct a three-dimensional floor or table map of their immediate geographic region. Such an activity helps develop students' observational skills and spatial relationships and teaches the concepts of absolute and relative locations of people and places. Comparing the floor or table map to a picture map of this same region will help students make the connections between geographic features in the field, three-dimensional models of this region, and two-dimensional pictures or symbolic maps. Students should observe that the picture-symbol map "tells the same story" as the floor model but does so at a smaller scale. The picture-symbol map may also be hung upright without changing the spatial arrangement of these features and without altering their relationships to one another. For example, when the map is hung upright, the supermarket is still north of the post office. These critical understandings are important in developing reading and interpretation skills with maps.
The English Language Art / English Language Development Framework states that the more students know about a topic, the more motivated and better equipped they will be in their language development. Thus, when students study standard 1.2, they will draw upon their experiences at home, at school, and in their communities to learn history-social science content and English. Community is one of the central themes in the History-Social Science Framework. One's home, street, classroom and school, stores, and parks are among the most familiar places for the average first grader. Through read-alouds, visual maps (even Google Earth), and images, students learn that all communities — present day and long ago — have similarities and differences. In order to make the most meaning from these sources, teachers should pre-teach the skill of comparing and contrasting so that the concept will be clear from the beginning. In fact, for the students of Ventura, Los Angeles, Guadalupe, and San Francisco, they can still visit community resources included in this inquiry set. It is important for all students to develop and retain a sense of place and their own identity that grounds them within their own community while comparing to the communities of the past. Teachers can introduce the concept of a community by reading the book Where We Live! A First Book of Community Building by Scot Ritchie. The book provides an overview of the essential parts of a community — people, places, and buildings. Teachers may want to do an anchor chart for students to reference key parts of their communities as they transition from the storybook to the images. Students will compare the celebrations, recreational activities, businesses, and local services within a community from the past and today. Students are also introduced to basic mapping skills in this inquiry set, where they will learn mapping and location vocabulary and key words, including between, next to, near, far, and away. These skills are critical in developing more advanced mapping skills in later grades. Teachers may wish to have students make a picture dictionary or create a class word bank, or add to an anchor chart to reference throughout the unit. Finally, students are presented with community images from California's past. Using the prompts for each image, students engage in conversations. They discuss their observations, sharing their findings. Ultimately, students can use these sources to find commonalities in the images from long ago and share ideas about the differences in their communities today.
To introduce the idea of community, the teacher can read Look Where We Live! A First Book of Community Building by Scot Ritchie, which provides an overview of the essential parts of a community, including people, places, and buildings. The story includes a labeled map of the community of five fictional friends. In the book, the friends travel throughout their community, visiting the different parts. Conversation about the book, especially the parts of the community, is encouraged. Directions:
  1. Students view a generic community map to learn mapping and location vocabulary (symbols, key, between, near, far, next to, away, etc.). In partners or in a fishbowl model, students share observations of the map with each other using academic-specific language (i.e., "The police station is next to stores and food shops").
  2. Students discuss their own community, using Student Handout 1.2.2 to record their thoughts. Alternatively, a visual like a 3-D map or an aerial shot would engage students and provide access for equitable engagement. This activity can be done as a whole class, in groups, or with a partner. Students write the name of their community at the top of the organizer, then add a definition for their community, descriptive words ("many hills," etc.), and then they provide a list of examples of landmarks and other essential parts of their community. Students also list examples that are not found in their community (i.e. "skyscrapers or amusement parks"). Teachers may also need to record student responses on chart paper or the board to model writing and spelling.
  3. Students view and discuss the images of California communities from long ago. Using the same graphic organizer, students make observations and connections about California communities of the past (Student Handout 1.2.3). Then the class can compare these communities with their own by circling all the similarities with a blue pen and circling the differences with a red pen. Alternatively, the teacher could make the chart with student input.
  4. Using the sentence starter, students will complete the statement comparing their community today with communities of long ago.
  5. As an extension, students could draw a map of their own community, as shown in the example in Student Handout 1.2.1, using symbols and a key for significant buildings and other landmarks. To further develop speaking skills students may share their community maps with a partner or the class, using mapping and location vocabulary (between, near, far, next to, etc.).
Handouts: 1.2 Community Map Student Handout 1.2 My Community Student Handout 1.2 My Community Teacher Key 1.2 Communities of Long Ago Student Handout
  • The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.
Teachers should be mindful that students and their families come from a variety of socioeconomic, cultural, religious, ability, nationality, gender, and racial/ethnic backgrounds. Their neighborhoods and hometowns might share common cultural, religious, social, or architectural aspects from the past communities shown in this exercise. This standard will then help to provide a more inclusive interpretation of what other communities might look or function like while also helping students analyze how and why communities and neighborhoods change over time. In addition, teachers should try to be mindful that community structures are different; people in some communities, for example, do not feel as safe around police officers as people do in other communities.